The Basics of Breastfeeding

Every mom and baby is different, and whether you choose to breastfeed or formula-feed your baby, you’ll make the decision that’s right for you. If you do choose to breastfeed, don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t come easily at first. A little know-how -- and some time and practice -- will help you and your baby establish a fun and stress-free breastfeeding routine.

The first few days

Shortly after you give birth, you’ll notice a yellowish substance called colostrum, which is your baby’s first food. Colostrum is full of protein and disease-fighting antibodies which help keep your baby healthy. Your actual breast milk will likely come a few days after your baby is born.

Most hospitals have a breastfeeding class or a lactation expert to help you get started. This is a great place to learn the basics: how to get your baby to latch onto your breast and how to tell whether she is nursing the right way.

Got milk?

Establishing your milk supply takes is a healthy diet, plenty of fluids, and rest. Some nutrients, like calcium and vitamin D, are especially important, since breastfeeding can reduce bone mass. You can get calcium and vitamin D from low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as from fortified cereals. Drinking plenty of liquids is also important, but avoid consuming too much caffeine and alcohol. Too much caffeine can make your baby fussy, and alcohol can actually decrease your milk supply.  

If your baby still seems hungry right after a feeding, and you have no more milk to give, try drinking more fluids and getting more rest. Over time, you’ll become accustomed to changes in your newborn’s demands. Remember: As long as your baby is peeing and having regular bowel movements, she is getting plenty of milk.

Timing is everything

In the early days, nurse your baby whenever she appears hungry. Don’t fret about sticking to a schedule. If she starts to sleep for long stretches, consider waking her up to breastfeed. The more often your baby nurses, the more she will help you build your supply. Also, avoid using pacifiers in these early weeks, so your baby can do all her suckling at your breast.

Know the signs

When your baby is a newborn, feed her only when she’s hungry, which is basically whenever she is crying. Most newborns will nurse 10 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. That’s because their stomachs are really tiny, and they can’t eat much at one feeding.

You’ll know your newborn is hungry when she’s:

  • Rooting (The rooting reflex occurs when she opens her eyes and turns her head towards the position of the breast.)  
  • Nuzzling at your breast
  • Making sucking motions
  • Putting her hands in her mouth
  • Crying

Introducing a bottle

If you’re breastfeeding, try to wait until your baby is at least 2 to 4 weeks old before introducing a bottle. Getting your baby to take a bottle usually works best when someone else does the feeding. Get Dad to feed her while you disappear into another room. Watch out: If your baby knows you’re nearby, she might go on a nursing strike!

Start with half an ounce of breast milk that you pumped, and try to give the bottle to your baby an hour or two after a regular feeding. She will be most alert and motivated at this time, but not so hungry that she’ll be frantic and upset.

What’s enough?

Knowing how much your baby eats when you breastfeed isn’t easy. One way to tell is how well she sleeps after a meal. On a full tummy and with a clean diaper, your baby is likely to doze off right after a meal.

Back to work

Fortunately, most women can continue to breastfeed after going back to work. Many employers now provide private rooms for you to pump, and allow for more flexible schedules. If your employer doesn’t make accommodations, talk to your human resources department. They can probably help you settle in and make the transition smooth, easy, and stress-free -- as it should be!